Category Archives: Creativity

Creative Play Newsletter (Vol.1, Issue 11)- Do Something Different

In March’s newsletter, I wrote about the importance of play time to stimulate your creative juices and how I have found the times when I have allowed time for play to be some of my most creative. But what if that still doesn’t work?  There certainly are days when even the idea of playing in the studio without any plan in mind feels too hard. When that’s the case, get out of the studio and do something different.

I’ve talked before about those periods of frustration when nothing seems to be going right and I’ve prescribed leaving the studio then to take a walk or go on an Artist’s Date. Both of those are good things but, believe me, sometimes that isn’t enough. I’m talking now about those days when you walk into the studio and just want to turn right around again. Even housecleaning is looking more appealing than creating. Those are desperate times! Before you pick up a scrub brush, try one more thing – explore other media. Haven’t picked up a paintbrush since grade school? Try it now. Mash your frustrations out on some clay. String some beads. Take a class in something that’s really new to you or experiment in media you haven’t tried before. Even when you’re playing in your preferred medium, it can be hard to truly let go. That’s the point of trying a new one. It’s totally new to you so there are no expectations. (Actually, you probably expect that what you create will be total crap and you’ll just be pleasantly surprised when it’s not.) You can create just for the sake of creating. If you can recapture a few moments of that sheer joy of creating that you had as a kid, you might just find that spark that will bring you back to your work.

I recently took a watercolor journaling class with Jane LaFazio. I may never be a watercolor painter, but I tried something new, opened up some new creative channels and managed to paint a pretty decent shoe:

Julie Neu, watercolor painting of purple Chuck Taylor sneaker

Creative Play Newsletter, (Vol. 1:Issue 10) – The Gift

I had an essay already written and all typed up for this month’s newsletter when I began reading The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde. (Thank you, Carol, for the introduction to this book.) Reading it has been so transformative that I felt like I needed to shelve my plans for this month and write about it. I have been really struggling lately with my plans of making a living as an artist and the reality of doing so. This book has helped me to understand why this has been such a struggle.

Hyde describes two different economies: the commodity economy and the gift economy. In the first part of the book, he delves into anthropology and history to describe the development of both. But, my basic take-away from the first part was this:  I have participated in a commodity economy for more than 25 years. From my first minimum wage job at 14, through salaried work and now highly-paid but still hourly consulting work, I have been able to directly equate one hour of work with a certain amount of pay. Art doesn’t work this way. An artist participates in a gift economy in which she or he receives a gift of artistic talent or inspiration and then creates a gift by making the art. The artist gives the gift to the world and is compensated indirectly through another gift. It’s a circle that continues but one in which there is no way to directly correlate hours worked with a ROI. To say that this is a foreign concept to me is a complete understatement and I’ve realized I have to completely shift my thinking about what it means to work and about compensation. I have no idea yet how to do that, but it does help explain why this hasn’t been working.

Creative Play Newsletter (Vol.1: Issue 9) – Play Time

What is Creative Play and why do I keep talking about it?  Well, I keep talking about it because after many, many years of fighting it, I have finally realized how very important it is. I stopped playing at about oh, two years of age.  That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one. My mom has told me that I was the most mature five year-old she had ever met (and I think she really means “serious” when she says “mature”).  My sister can vouch for what a stick-in-the-mud I was as a kid. Needless to say, I carried that into adulthood too. I love reading, but I read mostly non-fiction or classic, serious fiction.  I took up quilting as a hobby initially because it resulted in something useful and was something that I could do while watching TV and thus otherwise “wasting” time. Honestly, it’s amazing people wanted to spend time with me!

I started playing in 2008, at the ripe old age of 33. That’s when I started my “Creative Play” blog and I went into the studio each week with the sole purpose of playing. During that time, I tried out many new techniques and I learned a lot. The most important thing that I learned from that experience, however, was how play feeds creativity. That period was one of the most creative times in my life, precisely because I was leaving room for creativity. I was just playing around to see what happened and what happened was some of my best work.

Fast forward to today, when after a hiatus from playing and after having fallen back into my old pattern, I am again leaving some time for creativity. A few weeks ago, I decided on a Friday to not make a To Do list. I decided that I wouldn’t work on any of the projects on my work table (unless I really felt moved to) and that I would just see what the day brought. I had barely finished my first cup of tea when I started thinking about the BirdZeed challenge word for the month. It was the 27th of January, four days from the end of the month, and I had had no intention whatsoever of doing the challenge. The word was “line” and I had not been inspired.  But, on that day that I had left open, I decided to take up the challenge.  An idea came very quickly to me and I made a good start on the piece. After buying some supplies, I finished it up before the end of the month. I had no plan to create this work, but because I gave myself some play time, my creativity flourished and I created one of my most heartfelt pieces to date. Read more about what it means to me in my blog post.

Line in the Sand art quilt piece. Women's March protest

Line in the Sand, 2017. 8″ x 10″

Read last month’s newsletter article.

What I’m Listening To

I’ve been doing a lot of hand sewing lately. I decided to do a quilt-as-you-go technique on the Victims Quilt so that I didn’t have to put a king-size quilt under the machine and I’ve been hand sewing the seams closed on the back. It’s time-consuming work (each of the long seams is taking over 2 hours) and I know that glue would be more efficient because I am machine sewing later, but this is the route I chose.  The great upside of all of this hand sewing time is that I am blowing through a lot of interesting podcasts.  Here’s what I am listening to:

Pat Sloan’s American Patchwork & Quilting Podcast  – She’s having a very special guest next Monday!

Tara Gentile’s Profit. Power. Pursuit Podcast – Covers the details of running a small business, particularly a creative business.

Melissa Dinwiddie’s  Live Creative Now! Podcast – About creativity and living a creative life. I find myself nodding in agreement with all that she’s saying.

So, if you’re finding yourself with some time on your hands and are looking for a few good podcasts, I recommend the above. If you’ve got others that you love, please share!

UFOs: Great Creativity Challenges

Many years ago, I was the charity quilt coordinator for my guild. In that role, I was the recipient of many, many donated UFOs.  What absolutely surprised me was how much I loved dealing with other people’s UFOs. I have rarely felt as creative as I did when staring at a stack of blocks and trying to decide what to do with them. Since they were not my UFOs (of which I have plenty!), I was completely freed from any preconceived notions of what the blocks were supposed to be and could instead look at them as a challenge: what is the easiest/ fastest useful quilt I can make, either with what I have here or with just a few additions? It was a much greater challenge than starting with a blank sheet of paper and a well-loaded quilt shop and it led to some of the most creative solutions.

I started each UFO project by asking myself a series of questions to ascertain the situation. “How many blocks did I have? How big were they? What could I create with them?”  If the answer was “nothing good,” then I thought about whether I could add a little more fabric in sashing, alternate blocks or borders and come up with something of the right size.

I encourage you to look at your UFOs with fresh eyes and see what creative solutions you find. Tackling one may be just the challenge to get your creative juices really flowing and it has the added benefit of dispatching with a UFO!  I’ve created a two-page worksheet to download that steps through those questions I asked myself as a free gift for subscribers to my Creative Play Newsletter. Click here if you are interested.  I’d love to hear about ways UFOs spurred your creativity so please feel free to post a comment here on the blog or over on my Facebook page.  Happy Finishing!

Creative Play Date

Happy Valentine’s Day!  It’s also Creative Play Date Day. I’m not feeling very creative today because I am still getting over the plague that my daughter brought home from school so I decided I would just play today. For me that means working on personal quilts rather than professional ones, like this one:

This is a nearly 10 year old UFO. I made the tops in 2007 (I think) as a Halloween costume for my husband and me. (With berets and drapes, we were “French Doors.” It required explaining.)  I always planned to turn them into quilts and I am finally getting around to it. C’est la vie!

Creative Play Newsletter (Vol. 1: Issue 8) – Creativity is Innate

I have been thinking about the nature of creativity for years, but nothing has helped me understand the topic more than having a child.  My daughter created fearlessly from the moment she could first hold a crayon. But, judging from the stacks of papers other parents took home with them from day care, she’s just as creative as the next kid. Watching her and her peers, it has become clear to me that creativity and the desire to create are innate. It is something we are all born with, but somehow, it gets beaten out of us so that as adults, we are much more hesitant to ask, “what if?”  Her innate ability to create without hesitation is what Tom and David Kelley call “creative confidence.” As I suspected from watching my daughter, we are all born with it but can get buffeted by life enough that by the time we’re adults we believe that we never were creative, that we weren’t one of the lucky few who were born creative. Not true.  We were all born artists, but over time, we lost our creative confidence in different ways.

So, what now?  As the Kelley brothers describe, creativity is a muscle that can get as flabby as my abs. You just need a little exercise, or maybe even a little creative play.  No matter how long it has been since you got a little creative exercise, that little girl or boy who mixed paint just to see what happened and then painted his or her hands is still in there. So the next time you begin a project, maybe don’t start with a pattern or a book, let your inner artist out to play a bit.

Read January’s post – Know When to Walk Away

Hello World!

Remember last week in my Creative Play Newsletter when I talked about how the Universe doesn’t always work from the same project plan? Boy, is the Universe having a good laugh at my expense this week!  My husband is away this week for work so I had an ambitious To Do List full of energetic things like heavy duty cleaning and  closet organizing but I have had to revise my plans. Just as my husband was packing his suitcase, I came down with a cold (his cold, thank you very much!). I was so walloped by it that the only times I moved from the bed yesterday were to take my daughter to school and pick her up and to make myself some tea and toast. Otherwise, I was completely horizontal.  I’m happy to report that I am sitting upright today!  That closet organizing may have to wait and the heavy duty cleaning absolutely will. Sometimes the Universe just laughs in the face of the plans we humans make and there’s nothing to do but roll with it.

Speaking of plans…I’ve scheduled another Creative Play Date for tomorrow. Now, when I scheduled it, I didn’t realize that it coincided with the Inauguration, but it occurs to me that playing in my studio is really a perfect way to spend the day. So, I hope that you can join me for a little play time at some point tomorrow. I’ll check in and let you know what I am working on.

Creative Play Newsletter (Vol. 1: Issue 7) – Know When to Walk Away

I am stubborn. (I can hear the people who know me well chuckling at that. “Yeah, a little!” they are thinking sarcastically.) In a lot of ways, that stubbornness has served me well in life, but it doesn’t always serve me well in the studio. I like to get things done and I like to get them done on time, according to MY plan.  But, what I have had to learn over the last few years is that art doesn’t work that way. The Muses aren’t consulting a gigantic project plan and saying, “Ah yes, today Julie is scheduled to complete the quilting on her current piece.” My plan for the day and their plan for the day don’t always align and I hate that.

In my other life, I am a great project manager and am really good at getting things done. When things get hard, I roll up my sleeves and work harder. When a task is taking longer than expected, I make a cup of tea and I work longer.  That does not work in art. Yes, there are times when things are really working well and you do just need a little more time or a little more effort, but there are also a lot of times when more time and effort are just counterproductive. In those moments in the past, I stubbornly tried to work through it. I would just keep sewing even after my thread broke for the fourth time AFTER changing the needle, rethreading the machine, and giving it a good cleaning. I would press on and sew a seam again after having sewn it and taken it out six times already. I would just keep getting more and more frustrated and my language got worse and worse, but I would keep at it. I’d square my stubborn shoulders and just try to work through it. I failed and finally, dawn broke over Marblehead and I realized that unlike PowerPoint slides, art cannot be forced.  Thus, one of the greatest lessons I have learned recently is that sometimes when creating art, you just have to walk away.

I have just learned that there is a name for this action, for walking away when your art is screaming at you that it just is not going to get done today. Tom and David Kelley in their 2013 book called “Creative Confidence; Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All,” call this activity “Relaxed Attention.”  “Relaxed Attention” certainly has a more positive spin than spewing a string of expletives, throwing up your hands and stomping out of the studio while muttering “I GIVE UP!” (which is usually how it happens for me).  Instead, cultivate some relaxed attention by doing something else. Take a “thought walk,” as they call it. Go out for coffee. Sleep on it. Throw your project plan out the window.  In this month of goals and resolutions, know that sometimes you have to just give it time and take a break.

Read the December Creative Play Newsletter

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